03/31/2004

Ga. Fire, Police Officers Add Tools of Trade

By David Simpson, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The DeKalb County Police Department''s newest vehicle will make life more comfortable for its SWAT team. The fire and rescue department''s new "burn building" will do just the opposite for firefighters in training.

DeKalb Chief Executive Officer Vernon Jones showcased both in news conferences that also emphasized improved efficiency in both departments.

Efficiency saves money, Jones said, but in public safety programs "efficiency can also mean the difference between life and death."

The Police Department unveiled a $150,000 "SWAT truck," which can serve as a field headquarters for SWAT officers, complete with military "meals ready to eat," restroom, ammunition, lockers and video equipment.

Police Chief Eddie Moody said the truck makes it easier for the SWAT unit during extended standoffs. In such situations, he said, "we''ve got all the time in the world" to prevent loss of life.

Moody also pointed to cost savings achieved by the department''s helicopter unit through in-house training of pilots and the purchase of a fuel truck to allow the unit to buy aviation fuel at wholesale prices. And he said a new electronic system for receiving reports from pawn shops will speed up processing and save the cost of previously outsourced data entry.

Meanwhile, Jones and Fire Chief David Foster broke ground for a new "burn building," which will simulate the heat of a burning building for training exercises.

How hot? Up to 1,000 degrees.

"Our fire/rescue cadets will learn how to survive in one of the most life-threatening situations," Jones said.

The fire and rescue department also released statistics showing average response times dropped from nine minutes to five minutes in 2003. And DeKalb has not had a call for which no ambulance was available since February 2003, Jones said.

Both the fire and rescue and police departments also reported lower overtime bills in 2003.

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